Texas Auto Writers Association, Inc.
The Texas Auto Writers Association, Inc. was founded in 1987 by automotive journalists who wanted to provide an avenue of professional growth, development and networking in the southern region.
These professionals sought to create an automotive event that was unique to Texas, and the result was the "Texas Truck Rodeo". The Rodeo was conceived by Tim Spell and Tom Wolfgang. Since 1993, the Texas Truck Rodeo has been held annually in cities and towns like San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Granbury, Spring Branch and now Dripping Springs.
In 2003, TAWA created an event for sedans, sports cars, and other vehicles not eligible for the Truck Rodeo. The TAWA Spring Challenge, as it was originally known, was held in the Texas Hill Country near Austin. The Texas Auto Roundup, as the event is called today, was held at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth during the last weekend of April, and in 2017, found a new home at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
TAWA FORMATION & HISTORY
It was February 1985, and I have just returned from my very first press introduction, hosted by Subaru. Fred Hammond was the PR host of the event, which marked the arrival of the automaker’s brand-new sports car – the XT Coupe. Excited to be selling something other than 4WD station wagons, Subaru had pulled out all the stops! The flight out to San Diego went smoothly, and I was amazed that the limousine which collected me at the airport delivered me to the city’s legendary Victorian hotel -- the Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island. After a day of driving some challenging canyon roads, we ended up at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Nigel, also right on the ocean.
Weeks later my head was still spinning. I had sold real estate advertising for the paper for over six years – then four months earlier shifted gears and began editing special sections for The Houston Post. This included steering the development of the paper’s brand new Automotive Section, which had made its debut in the summer of 1984.
Over the next two years, I attended dozens of additional press launches as my weekly Test Drive car review column in the Post garnered the attention of all the major automakers. Not only was being able to drive a new car every week an impressive “gig” to me and my jealous co-workers, I believe my neighbors suspected I might be boosting cars for the local chop shop!
As we all know, driving and writing about new cars is quite a thrill. But unbeknownst to me in the beginning, by attending the national press events, I had become an unofficial member of a national auto writer’s “fraternity.” Editors and writers for several of the national buff books – Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, Automobile and others – were generally in attendance, plus writers from lifestyle magazines ranging from Popular Mechanics, Fortune, and Playboy to Better Homes & Gardens. There were also iconic writers such as Denise McCluggage, Chris Economaki, Jerry Flynt of Forbes and Don Vorderman from Town & Country on the guest list – characters ALL!
While I certainly enjoyed the trips – the company of other auto writers and their entertaining stories – it soon became clear I was usually the ONLY auto writer attending from Texas!
This seemed strange given the size of the state, the number of major newspapers here, and the importance of the Texas automotive market. So I decided to check with Ford’s regional PR man in Dallas, Bob Bierman, to see if there were other auto writers around the state. He assured me there were, and provided me with his list of media contacts to whom he delivered press vehicles.
At the time, there were only four professional auto writer groups, most on the east and west coasts. There was IMPA -- the International Motor Press Assn. in New York, plus their West Coast branch started by AutoWeek’s Matt DeLorenzo in 1984, known as MPG – Motor Press Guild. Then there was WAPA – the Washington Automotive Press Association in the nation’s capital. The last group, founded in Detroit in 1967, was known as the Detroit Auto Writers Group, or DAWG. That was it.
Since there was no way I could attend press association meetings 2,000 miles away or more, I decided it was time to start a Texas-based professional auto writer’s group. At that time, not only were there very few Texas auto writers invited to press events – there were even fewer national press events being held in Texas – just the occasional regional press events in Dallas, Houston or New Orleans. Given the fabulous climate in Texas 11 months out of the year, I thought THAT needed to change, too.
So I asked Mr. Bierman if he would help me put together a Texas-based auto writer group, which he was more than happy to do. At that point in time, the automakers were doing more and more demographic research, and were quickly becoming aware that each region of the country had its own distinctive buying habits – which quickly revealed Texans’ penchant for full-size cars and big full-size trucks – ESPECIALLY Suburbans!
Suddenly the topic of regional marketing was the “hot topic” at virtually every press launch between 1987 and 1989. And it seemed clear that if the automakers were serious about regional marketing, they needed to get serious about marketing in Texas; and what better way to foster that marketing effort than by giving Texas media members and their publication more visibility by creating a writer’s guild based in TEXAS
So in early 1987, I began contacting other auto writers around the state, putting together a corps group willing to take active roles as officers and help establish the Texas Automotive Writers Association. The corps members at that time included Steven Cole Smith (then with the Fort Worth Star Telegram), Preston Lerner (who freelances for Automobile), Pete Szilagyi, Don James, T.Q. Jones, David Sullens, Bill Wallace, Bruce Castleberry, Tim Smith, Stephanie Lauridsen, Roseville Embree and Tom Wolfgang. Our first organizational meeting was held in Austin at Stubb’s BBQ on Nov 6, 1987.
At least four or five more meetings were held around the state the following year, during which time a constitution and by-laws were written, and a logo was designed for the group. The Texas Automotive Writer’s Association was officially launched in 1989, at which time I was elected president – a post I held for two years.
What was very rewarding is the fact that my two main goals in working to launch TAWA were quickly realized. More Texas auto writers soon began attending national press events – and more press events were held at Texas venues, especially in the Texas Hill Country.
Of course, what REALLY drew attention to the group and established our reputation was our decision to launch the Texas Truck Rodeo in 1993 under the leadership of Tom Wolfgang and Tim Spell. Although previously ignored and snubbed by many of the automakers, since then Texas has been ignored no more! Not only do we have many national press events held here each year, when it came time for Toyota to build its full-size trucks in the USA, they built their plant in Texas. Over the years TAWA has done such a good job selling all things Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were one of the catalysts that resulted in Toyota’s corporate move from California to Plano.
Looking back on what’s happened with TAWA since that first Austin gathering back in 1987, I have to say I’ve very proud of the outcome. The leaders to whom the baton has been passed in the 30 years since then have done an outstanding job of remaining true to the goals of professionalism, integrity, and devotion to all things automotive -- especially as they relate to Texas. I’m genuinely proud of all that TAWA and its members have accomplished in their careers as auto journalists -- and as an organization. I’m just pleased that I could play a small part in getting things up and rolling here in my beloved Texas!
TEXAS TRUCK RODEO HISTORY
Pressure was on the Texas Auto Writers Association in 1993 to host a Track Day. This was a car-centric competition among auto brands, which was being staged at race tracks by other auto-journalist organizations. Considering the enormity and importance of the Texas truck market, as president I thought having a truck-only event would help TAWA stand apart from the other groups.
Consulting with second-president Tom Wolfgang, who had worked with first-president Peter Hubbard to form TAWA, we presented the idea to the membership of 34. The proposal was met with some opposition, but passed. Wolfgang, who was event chairman, introduced the idea to call the event “Truck Rodeo” to provide more Texas-style flavor than the original “Truck Day” title.
The Truck Rodeo date was set for Nov. 12-13, 1993. Although the event occurred in 1993, it was called the 1994 Texas Truck Rodeo because it showcased 1994 product.
Fortunately, Wolfgang had worked with Bob Bierman, Ford’s Texas public affairs representative, to create the Ford Alamo Challenge in 1991. This competition pitted Texas auto writers against their Detroit counterparts, putting Ford trucks through the paces in various challenging exercises. The Alamo Challenge site at a San Antonio-area mud-drags facility was a natural choice for the Truck Rodeo.
Along with having a familiar site and established driving exercises, the event-development process was eased by media-fleet manager Matt Lane’s crew. They handled the logistics of setting up and monitoring the course, as well as continually herding the 27 competing pickups and SUVs.
The mud-drag pits were the main attractions and, like today’s Truck Rodeo off-road course, were limited to the most capable pickups and SUVs. Cleaning the vehicles was a nightmare, and some received paint damage from continually plowing through the mixture of mud, gravel and oil.
There also was a street course, laid out in the heart of historic downtown San Antonio, which provided drivers with an interesting sampling of city routes. Unfortunately, some participants found directions unclear and were left aimlessly wandering off course.
On the entertainment side, TAWA members departed the La Mansion del Rio base hotel for a San Antonio River barge tour, and dinners at El Capistrano and La Margaritas restaurants.
Announcement of 1994 Texas Truck Rodeo winners was made on Jan. 3, 1994. The first vehicle to claim Truck of Texas honors was the 1994 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCab.
The Texas Truck Rodeo was an ambitious experiment, and thanks to the hard work of TAWA members over the years it has evolved to become a successful large-scale event that’s growing and improving each year.
TIM SPELL, 5th President - TAWA
TEXAS AUTO ROUNDUP HISTORY
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The first Autowriters Challenge was held in Austin, in April 2003, under my presidency. TAWA had held Texas Truck Rodeos since the early ’90s and had been recognized everywhere as the ultimate authority on trucks and SUVs, but up until this point we have never had an event strictly for passenger cars.
Manufacturers and writers throughout the country wondered why no event was held for sedans, coupes and convertibles in Texas. The conventional reply had been that Texas is the world’s sales capital for trucks and that cars simply do not do as well in the Lone Star State. A few of us on the board of directors of TAWA thought “Maybe it’s partially our fault. Maybe trucks command here because we pay so much attention to them and so little attention to passenger cars."
After all, there really are a lot of vehicles other than trucks on Texas roadways. I knew from calls I received from publishing Bumper to Bumper every week for years that the interest in cars and trucks is more than that of almost any other subject discussed in our newspaper. Therefore, perhaps the problem is simply that we need to review and cover more cars, and the interest would grow.
In order to do this we recognized there needs to be an event specifically tailored to evaluating cars – like the Texas Truck Rodeo, but with only passenger cars allowed. It didn’t seem logical to name the event the “Car Rodeo,” and after meeting and discussing the subject the “Texas Autowriters Challenge” was decided upon.
That title was changed to "The Roundup" after a few years. In planning stages for that first Challenge we were apprehensive as to how many cars would be entered by manufacturers. After all, they also knew that Texas is a sales center mainly for trucks. Perhaps 20 vehicles may enter, we thought. We budgeted accordingly.
Everyone came and brought in the best they had to offer. We drove 46 models along the beautiful hilly countryside near Austin that year. The following year, 2004, 52 vehicles were entered. The Challenge/Roundup has grown in popularity every year since.
MARLON HANSON, 11th President - TAWA